Chicago: At The Gage, Sometimes Cheaper Is Better
24 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago IL 60603 (map); 312-372-4243; thegagechicago.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: The cheaper burger is excellent; the fancy-pants burger is good but has some balance issues
Want Fries With That? They're hand cut and double-fried, but something is missing; good but not great
Price: The Regular, $10; The Gage, $16
Because The Gage opened less than years ago, it's a bit hyperbolic to call the place a classic Chicago institution. But given the staggering wave of gastropubs that has swept across the city since then, The Gage definitely deserves some recognition as a trendsetter to go along with the many accolades Chef Dirk Flanagan's food has received.
Located in a historic building across the street from Millennium Park, The Gage would probably do fine serving mediocre food thanks to its proximity to hungry tourists and downtown office workers. And while it may not be quite on par with some of the newer similarly themed restaurants like Longman & Eagle and The Publican, the place is putting out some seriously good food.
There are two different burgers on the menu, The Regular and The Gage. The Regular is substantially cheaper—$10 versus $16— and is about as basic as burgers come. There is a half pound patty that comes with lettuce, onion and tomato and a choice of cheese. We went with blue cheese and received a burger that, while simple, was undeniably delicious.
The burger was cooked exactly to the requested medium rare. The beef had great flavor and the blue cheese provided some great tang that complemented the meat well. The crust wasn't heavy, but there were plenty of crunchy bits around the outside to give the meat some textural contrast. It's not made from gourmet beef and has no glamorous back story; it's simply a flawless burger that is eminently satisfying.
The more celebrated burger at The Gage is the one named after the restaurant. The Gage Burger, which was the one Flanigan featured at the Hamburger Hop, is made from prime beef and is topped with a local camembert and a "melted onion marmalade." Served on a toasted malt roll, the burger was very good, but there were some balance issues that made the beef itself more of a bit player rather than the clear centerpiece.
The next time I have camembert or brie on a burger and think it's a great idea will be a first. Both cheeses, while delicious on a cracker, have a diluting effect on the savoriness of the beef. Weakened by the cheese, the burger had little chance to shine through the sweet onion marmalade; there was simply not enough salt or bite to this burger to create balance. It was still quite good, but just a bit out of whack and definitely not as good as its cheaper counterpart.
Everything about the fries at The Gage seems right. They hand cut the potatoes and fry them twice, and they do come out crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. But for some reason the fries we got were fairly bland. Fortunately, they were saved by the addition of an excellent vindaloo that's available for a $3 upcharge.
Like most new gastropubs, The Gage takes its food seriously and offers an array of interesting eats that, unlike burgers, traditional American Irish pubs would not think of serving. On this visit with three friends, we put a pretty good dent in the menu, sampling items ranging from bison tartare to caramelized lobster. And while we were happy with pretty much everything, the burgers were the unanimous favorite at the table.